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Poll Shows Voters Sour on Governor

Times Staff Writer

Californians are rejecting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s initiatives on the November special election ballot and giving him dismal marks for job performance -- even while saying that the governor is focused on important problems, a statewide poll released Wednesday shows.

The survey by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that a majority of residents think that the state is heading in the wrong direction, President Bush and Schwarzenegger are doing poor jobs, the Democratic-controlled state Legislature is doing even worse and state government is doing what is right “only some of the time.” A majority also says that there should be no special election this year.

To say the least, there was a considerable lack of enthusiasm displayed in the summer survey. In the poll, a majority of voters supported only a single initiative: curbing the use of union dues for political campaigns -- something feared by Democrats but supported “in concept” by Schwarzenegger.

Mark Baldassare, survey director of the San Francisco-based institute, said many people reported hearing about the initiatives for the first time during the polling two weeks ago and “hardly anyone picked out an initiative and said, ‘This one interests me.’ ”

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“None of the propositions favored by the governor’s administration are inspiring much passion,” Baldassare said.

The Nov. 8 special election includes eight initiatives, three of which were endorsed by the governor. They would extend the probationary periods for teachers, limit state spending and no longer allow lawmakers to draw their own legislative districts.

Schwarzenegger’s targets this year may be in sync with voters. The poll showed that an overwhelming majority of those surveyed believe that poor-performing teachers are a problem. A majority also said Schwarzenegger’s government spending initiative was important to them. In addition, a plurality said they would be more effectively represented if an independent panel of judges drew legislative districts.

At the same time, the poll showed that only 34% of those surveyed approved of Schwarzenegger’s job performance, a 31% decline since last year. The poll showed that 38% approved of President Bush’s job performance. The Legislature was at the bottom among politicians: Only 27% of those surveyed liked how they were doing, while 56% disapproved.

Speaking to radio hosts Wednesday, Schwarzenegger said he was not surprised that his popularity numbers were down, citing the controversial agenda he embraced this year and the several million dollars in attack ads paid for by unions.

Schwarzenegger said he plans to educate the public over the next two months with a full-scale campaign that features town hall meetings and more interviews with the media, as well as fundraising and advertising blitzes.

“I had a choice a year ago: Do I want to continue enjoying my 70% popularity rating and keep quiet and not create the reforms we need and not rattle the cage and upset the status quo, or do I really want to keep my promise?” Schwarzenegger said on KFBK radio.

In another interview, Schwarzenegger said he was not worried because it was too early in the campaign and poll numbers were volatile: “No one should listen to anything those people say, that the poll numbers are down. We are right on target.”

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The governor also implied that he was running for reelection next year. When asked by Sacramento radio host Tom Sullivan, he said: “I am not here for the short run. I am a follow-through guy.” He said a formal announcement either way would be made later.

The poll asked 2,004 Californians their opinions on five of the eight initiatives slated for the ballot. For likely voters, which numbered 988 in the survey, the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points. Interviews were conducted from Aug. 8 to Aug. 15.

On issues not related to the special election, the poll found that 70% of those surveyed want to keep the Roe vs. Wade court decision that protects abortion rights; 48% oppose same-sex marriage, compared with 44% in favor; and 60% approve of displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools or government buildings. They were evenly split on whether there should be a constitutional amendment that bans flag-burning.

One socially divisive issue received mixed support. Proposition 73, which would require parental notification if a minor seeks an abortion, was supported by 44% of likely voters and opposed by 48%.

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In the survey, a majority of likely voters supported only one of the five initiatives asked about: Proposition 75, which would curb the ability of public employee unions to use members’ dues for political campaigns. The initiative got support from 58% of likely voters.

Sixty percent of likely voters said Schwarzenegger should have waited until June 2006 for his initiatives. The governor is not going to cancel the November election, his staff has said, but Democratic lawmakers said he should have worked with them instead of going to the voters.

“The people are angry,” Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) said Wednesday about the special election. “They expect problems to be solved, and we’re having some mindless election that most people don’t want, have no clear understanding of, and I don’t think will end up resolving a thing.”

Schwarzenegger convened legislative leaders Wednesday for an unusual, 90-minute meeting with no agenda. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) said they also talked “about getting together more often so the ugliness of the election doesn’t get in the way of us all working together to try and accomplish good things for Californians.”

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According to the poll, Schwarzenegger’s plan to curb state spending, Proposition 76, is failing by a wide margin, with only 28% of likely voters saying that they would vote “yes.” The governor has said this is his most important proposal on the ballot.

His other two initiatives, teacher employment changes and redistricting, also were lagging behind but showed more support.

The teacher initiative, Proposition 74, got support from 49% of likely voters, with 42% against; the redistricting measure, Proposition 77, was opposed by 49% and supported by 34% of likely voters.

Todd Harris, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger’s campaign, said the poll numbers are meaningless at this point. He said that polls a month before the March 2004 primary showed Schwarzenegger’s $15-billion budget bailout bond failing by a large margin. It won handily.

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“The point is that campaigns matter,” Harris said. “Polls taken before campaigns even start don’t.”

Times staff writer Nancy Vogel contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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Ballot measures

Three ballot measures supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are not winning majority support from Californians likely to vote in the Nov. 8 special election, according to a new poll.

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Prop. 74

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Increase probation periods for public school teachers

Yes 49%

No 42%

Don’t know 9%

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Prop. 76

Limit state spending and change school funding requirements

No 61%

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Yes 28%

Don’t know 11%

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Prop. 77

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Retired judges to draw legislative districts

No 49%

Yes 34%

Don’t know 17%

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Job approval ratings

(Among all adults)

Gov. Schwarzenegger

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Approve: 34%

Disapprove: 54%

The Legislature

Approve: 27%

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Disapprove: 56%

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How the poll was conducted: The Public Policy Institute of California conducted telephone interviews with 2,004 California adults, including 988 likely voters, Aug. 8 -- 15. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2 percentage points for the entire sample and 3 points for likely voters. The James Irvine Foundation provided funding.

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Source: Public Policy Institute of California


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